Song Dynasty Dish Leads Christie’s $391 Million Auctions

Christie’s sold at least HK$3.03 billion ($391 million) worth of art during its five-day spring sale in Hong Kong that ended last night as Chinese buyers demonstrated more selectivity than at previous auctions.

The results exceeded the auctioneer’s pre-sale estimate of HK$2.5 billion, which includes the buyer’s premium, according to Christie’s website. The sales lacked the energy and excitement seen earlier this month in New York, where Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips tallied a combined $2.2 billion at their Impressionism, Modern and contemporary-art auctions.

“Mainlanders are becoming more educated and selective,” James Hennessy, a Hong Kong-based dealer, said in an interview outside the sales room. “They aren’t willing to throw vast sums at mediocre material. They know the difference between a great Zeng Fanzhi and a so-so one.”

The auctions of modern and contemporary Asian art, classical Chinese paintings and ceramics, jewelry, watches and wine raised less for Christie’s than last year’s HK$3.19 billion spring sale and the HK$3.42 billion sold by Sotheby’s at similar auctions in April.

The sales weren’t without highlights. Mainland artist Liu Wei’s 1998 painting titled “Landscape” sold on May 24 for HK$21.4 million, breaking the artist’s previous record of HK$20.3 million set at a Christie’s sale in November.

Manchester United

A Song dynasty (1127-1279) chrysanthemum-shaped dish that sold at auction for 1,400 pounds ($2,348) in 1975 fetched HK$25.9 million after a prolonged bidding war yesterday.

The auctions kicked off on May 24 with a sale of wine belonging to former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson that raised HK$29.5 million.

Many bottles bore Ferguson’s signature or were sold with t-shirts to capitalize on the popularity of British soccer’s most successful manager, who led Manchester to 38 trophies in 26 years before retiring last year.

His fame helped push prices as much as 50 percent higher than usual, dealers said. The top lot was a six-liter bottle, known as a methuselah, of Romanee-Conti Domaine de la Romanee-Conti 1997 that sold for HK$1.2 million.

Wine, Jewelry

While wine accounts for just two percent of Christie’s sales globally, “it’s a great point of entry for clients,” Francois Curiel, Christie’s Asia president, said before the auctions. He said the company is seeing a 20 percent to 30 percent influx of new clients from the U.S. and greater China.

The top lot of the jewelry sale on May 27, a necklace made of emeralds and containing the largest Golconda diamond ever auctioned in Asia, weighing 40.0 carats, with a high estimate of HK$80 million, failed to find a buyer. Golconda refers to a mining region in India that has produced some of the world’s most-famous gems.

Sotheby’s sold HK$162 million of wine, watches, Chinese ceramics and works of art, snuff bottles and lacquer in a three-day, mid-season Hong Kong sale that ended on May 28, the company said in an e-mail.

The New York-based auction house said it will be holding a sale of modern and contemporary Chinese art in Beijing on June 1 with an estimate of about 85 million yuan ($13.6 million).

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